9 March 2014, by gj
Saving the world one step at a time.
Many of you have heard us mention our youngest daughter, but we never explained why we chose her nickname.
When she was little, she used to pretend our backyard was a continent filled with many countries. When disputes would break out between them, she would negotiate peace. Of course each country had its own language which she made up, and it helped that she could speak them all.
As she grew she always took the best road. She found out which companies had good trade practices, and would purchase from them and not from others. She would buy from the shoe company that gave another pair to the needy. She even planted a garden for the sole purpose of giving the food away.
Flash forward to her freshman year in college, when she is invited to present her work on Conflict Resolution Between Countries at a conference, rubbing elbows with people who at the very least are in a master’s program, many of whom have their doctorate. And it goes on from there.
I could sit here and brag about her GPA, or how many languages she speaks and how many majors she has, but I won’t.
Instead I would like to show you something she sent to family and friends as her birthday approaches:
“For those of you who would have bought me a drink on my 21st, I would *really* appreciate, in lieu of alcohol, a donation to help send young girls in India to get an education.
The Child Brides: Send Them to School instead
Her concern for these young girls far outweighs any thought for herself. It truly is just that simple.
And that my friends, is how she got her name.
Categories: gardening people, places & things, sundays in the garden
8 March 2014, by gj
So you love the taste of lemon but think you can’t get it where you live?
Actually, you can. Here’s how:
1. Lemon Grass
Well known in Thai recipes, West Indian lemon grass grows wonderfully flavored bulbs. East Indian lemon grass also has the citrus flavor, but not as strong as the bulbs are smaller. This variety is better suited to teas.
West Indian is usually grown from plants, East Indian from seed. In some areas these plants can be invasive, so we recommend planting in containers.
2. Lemon Balm
An easy to grow herb in the mint family, lemon balm has a light lemony scent and flavor. It can be harvested and dried to add just a bit of lemon flavor to your recipes. There are a few varieties, but all can be as invasive as mints can be. Play it safe and grow in a container.
Lemon balm can also be grown indoors for fresh year round flavor.
3. Lemon Basil
An interesting combination of flavors that goes well in stir fry or pasta dishes, lemon basil has a delightful lemon flavor. Use it whenever you would combine these two flavors.
4. Lemon Drop Peppers
Like your lemon with a little heat added to it? Then try lemon drop hot peppers. Here you will find the heat is more intense than the citrus flavor, which makes them a fabulous addition to salsa and hot sauce recipes. They also add pretty yellow to your garden.
5. Lemon Verbena
One more citrus herb, lemon verbena has health benefits associated with like many other herbs do. The flavor of the plants leaves are strong enough to hold up to cooking even with fish, and are also used in many others ways from teas to spuddings.
6. Meyer Lemon Tree
A Facebook equaintance of mine mentioned once that he grows Meyer Lemons in his garden in upstate New York, bringing the tree indoors when the weather cools.
Of course we found this fascinating, and through some research found this is not uncommon at all. There are patio types as they are referred to, that are easy enough to grow indoors even year round.
The trees do not produce all the lemons at once, but most of the fruit will be ripe over the winter. There can also be a few stragglers afterwards. Lemons can then easily last a month if kept refrigerated in plastic bags.
At first I thought the idea of bringing a tree inside for the winter was a little extreme. Not so much now having done the same with an avocado tree.
I must admit, that having also seen you can do this with other fruit trees too, that it is beginning to look like there will be a small orchard in our living room.
And that’s okay by us.
Categories: How to Grow, Lemon & Lemon Flavors
4 March 2014, by gj
Did you ever stop to wonder just how self-sufficient your garden could make you? Sure you can grow great veggies, even a good protein source through dry beans.
But what about grains?
Although technically these are not all grains, we are listing them because they are used that way:
Most often thought of as a vegetable, corn is actually a grain. You can grow field or dry corn the same as you would sweet, but allow it to dry thoroughly on the cob before harvesting the kernels to grind.
Be sure to take preventative measures if you are also growing sweet corn nearby, as their pollen is carried on the wind and there can be cross pollination.
This summer we will be showing you ways to help prevent this; but for the meantime, keep them as far apart as possible preferably with a structure between them.
One of the best varieties for making your own corn meal, according to Baker Creek seed catalog, is Cherokee White Eagle. Just be sure to choose a variety that is meant to use for this purpose, they are less sugary and will dry more easily.
Grind, store and use the way you would store bought cornmeal.
Technically a vegetable, quinoa is a relative of spinach that is fast gaining popularity in restaurants as well as home kitchens. Part of the reason, other than the delightful taste, is that quinoa carries a protein not normally found in a vegetable. Especially for vegetarians, this is a wonderful thing.
What you harvest here are the seeds as well, dry, store and use like you would rice. You can also grind the seeds to use like flour.
Often grown for its use as a fiber, the seeds of flax are actually wonderfully nutritious. They are a good source of omega-3′s and high in fiber. The milled seeds can be added to many baked goods.
We are so excited to try our hand at growing flax this year.
Often listed under herbs, and even considered sometimes as a flower, Amaranth is a beautiful tall edible whose flower seeds can be used as a grain.
In some varieties you can also eat the leaves as a vegetable, bonus! The most common variety grown for the edible seeds is Love Lies Bleeding.
One definition of grains is that they are grasses that produce small edible seeds. Millet fits this description well. Its seeds can be ground for flours or gruel, but it is often also used as bird seed.
We are going to try one of the most common varieties used in the US, a Proso type; specifically Proso White.
Again, we will have more specifics on this as we actually grow and harvest it.
Dry or Field Corn
Generally speaking these crops grow quite tall, and the harvest you get for the space may not compare to vegetables you plant instead.
But if you have the room and want to be more independent, consider trying a grain crop.
We will let you know how we fare, what was worth it and maybe what was not over the course of the next year.
Hopefully it will all be rave reviews; but the idea of not being dependent on a store for our grains is already a win in our books!
You Can Grow It! is a monthly collaboration by gardeners around the world to promote the wonderful aspects of gardening.
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Categories: How to Store, other, preparedness
1 March 2014, by gj
Leek, celery and carrot.
There’s been a bit of a buzz around the internet about regrowing veggies from scraps. And most of what you’ll read is true. There are a few points, though, that seem to have been left out.
1. They aren’t always scraps.
Not all the pieces of veggies you choose to regrow are parts you would otherwise toss in the compost bin. Ginger is regrown from a piece of root that would normally be used. Likewise potatoes, unless you wait until they are shriveling up, and in that case they could rot before they grew anyway. Similarly, the bottoms of leeks and scallions are where most of the flavor is. Of course, getting a whole veggie is probably worth the sacrifice.
2. Sometimes all you get are seeds.
In the case of root veggies like carrots and parsnips, they won’t grow another veggie. If you can get the tops to sprout however, you have a pretty looking plant that will eventually flower and go to seed. These plants are both biennials, growing the root the first year and the flowers the next. It is a fun way to get your hands on some free seeds.
3. It won’t always take.
We started 3 leeks, 1 celery and 2 carrots. The celery looks good so far, 1 of the carrots already rotted, 1 leek never sprouted and another did but then died. Take your chances.
4. Clean the water, repeatedly.
In the pictures you see, the water always looks so fresh and sparkling. In reality, it can get slimy quite fast. Changing it often will improve your chances of getting what you want.
5. Transplanting may not work.
We tried twice so far to transplant a leek into the garden. Both times they did not survive. Others have told me it worked for them, so give it a go. I think this time we will just keep the leek in water and see what happens.
Ginger and taters.
6. It can take a long time.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes take months to grow, ginger takes almost a year, pineapples 2 years; just so you know what you are getting yourself into. We passed on the pineapple, here’s part of the reason why:
7. They can take up a lot of room.
Pineapples especially grow quite large, easily 6 ft. by 6 ft. wide. That is a lot of room to spare indoors, and we would rather fill it with other plants. The other large plants, particularly potatoes and sweet potatoes, will be outside anyway.
8. It probably won’t last forever.
If you are regrowing a veggie from a veggie, say a potato from a potato, you can go on season after season. Always choose the best spuds to regrow, so your crop does well and does not deteriorate in quality. If you get late blight, you would be better off starting over.
We have been told by people who regrow scallions from the root tips that after a few rounds the flavor deteriorates. The same would probably hold true for other veggies grown from actual scraps.
9. It isn’t rocket science, it is just basic botany.
Nobody should really be surprised by all of this, it certainly isn’t magic. It is nature’s way to find a method to survive, and plants are great examples of that. Look at how many of them produce seeds to scatter, or pollen that spreads on the wind. We have seen small tomato transplants get killed by frost, only to have the stems regrow and the plant go on to produce. Anyone who has ever grown cherry tomatoes knows that you only need to plant them once to have volunteers for a long time.
Some plants are so very good at reproducing they are considered invasive. Horseradish and oregano come to mind right away.
So go ahead and have fun, you are learning botany in the process; because really all you are doing is helping nature along.
And that’s a great way to spend some time.
Categories: The Experiments
25 February 2014, by gj
Just one of a few harvests from a well established plant.
Often thought of as a flower, Lavender is an herb that has many things going for it.
The first is obvious; the delicate leaves and beautiful flowers are reason enough to grow this plant in your garden.
Get closer and you will find another one; the wonderful scent of the flowers is soothing and relaxing. The flowers are often dried for use in soaps and to help as a sleep aid.
Sweet dreams are made of these.
In case that wasn’t enough, those flowers are also edible. If you have never had a Lemon-Lavender cookie, you don’t know what you are missing.
There are many varieties of lavender; the most common are English and Spanish. Of these there are also numerous cultivars, many suited well for container growing.
In general they are considered to be cold hardy perennials that can handle some drought as well.
Be sure to choose the right variety for your garden, as this lavender can grow anywhere from 1.5 ft. to well over 6 ft.
You can easily find lavender plants at your local nursery, though it has been our experience that they are not always labeled as to specific variety.
If you start from seeds, Renee’s Garden recommends you start them indoors as they are finicky and tender when young.
Once planted, lavender is a very useful herb that can add striking beauty to any garden.
Botanical Name: Lavandula stoechas
Common Name: Spanish Lavender
Hardiness: To Zone 7
Height: 1.5-2.5 ft.
Botanical Name: Lavandula angustifolia
Common Name: English or Common Lavender
Hardiness: To Zone 5
Height: 3-6.5 ft.
Categories: herbs, How to Grow
23 February 2014, by gj
Shawn isn’t finished with college quite yet, but already he owns his own garden products business and has invented something we thought many of you might find interesting.
Along with his business partner Michelle Mendez, Shawn designed a way to make planters from cork. These lightweight pots are better than plastic because they allow air to get to the soil, and better than traditional clay since cork has natural antibacterial properties.
A local news station featured them, take a look at the video here on Besta Cork.
You can see just how the pots are made by hand, it is really neat.
The planters are also good for the cork trees, as removing their bark is akin to shearing sheep.
If you are looking for a unique gift, Corkit pots can also be purchased with a Sprout pencil. Plant the eraser end, and it degrades releasing seeds. How fun is that!
Note: No compensation was received for writing this post, we just thought we would share something pretty cool.
Categories: gardening people, places & things, sundays in the garden
21 February 2014, by gj
Here they come.
Growing plants from seed is not a difficult thing to do. To start seeds indoors all you need are containers of your choice, some seed starting mix, a light source, warmth and water; and of course, seeds. Many seed packets will tell you when to start your seeds indoors or if your seeds can just be planted directly into the garden.
Here are a few reasons to consider seeds over purchased plants:
You get to choose that great tasting heirloom tomato over the typical plants you might find in a nursery. Over time, you will probably even choose a favorite to grow every year. When you grow from seed, you get to make the decision of which variety for every vegetable.
Do you really need a 4 or 6 cell pack of zucchini? If you asked my husband, he would tell you 2 zucchini plants are at least 1 too many. The same may be true for other vegetables as well. Instead of 6 Butternut squash, we would rather have 3 Butternut and 3 Spaghetti squash. By planting our own seeds, we get that control.
3. Pushing the season
If you use season extenders, such as the Wall o’ Water, low tunnels, a greenhouse, or the upcoming Jones’ Gardening System, you can plant your plants sooner than they may be available at the nursery. The garden system we designed allowed you to put your tomatoes in 4 weeks sooner than normal and you can be ready with plants you started from seed. In areas where the growing season is short, like here in Zone 5/6, this can make a big difference.
4. Saving money
Seeds can last for years, though over time you lose some viability. Still, one pack of seeds will produce a lot more plants per penny compared to buying them already started.
5. Saving bees
Did you know that some companies treat the seedlings’ soil with insecticides? Those big box stores don’t want that future sale to get bugs. Those chemicals are then transferred to your garden, where they can last for years. When you buy a nice organic seed starting mix, or even make your own, you know your plants won’t be hurting the environment let alone killing the very bugs they may need to produce food.
6. Geek joy
Have you ever thought it might be fun to develop your own unique veggie? You can try this by hand pollinating two similar veggies, such as 2 squashes. Save some of the seeds from the best specimens, and see what they produce the following year. Fun.
With a good assortment of seeds on hand and the knowledge of how to grow food, you are putting yourself and those you care about in a more prepared position should something happen to your ability to obtain food.
The ability to grow your own food gives you the freedom to be less dependent on others for what you need. When you learn to grow from seed, you are taking that to the next level.
The future really does wait quietly inside a seed.
Categories: all about seeds
14 February 2014, by gj
Gardening is an act of love.
Sure, you get fresh air, exercise, and food; but most gardeners grow plants because they love to.
So here’s a Happy Valentine’s Day to all you gardeners, and a few examples of growing we would love to share:
Love these beans.
1. Black Valentine Bean
This is one of our personal favorite bush beans to grow. As you can see from our notations on the packet, this bean can either be harvested as a green bean, or allowed to mature on the plant and dry. The seeds that you get as a dry bean are a beautiful purplish black and are wonderful tasting. Although we grow a variety of dry beans, we plant more of these than any other.
2. Love In A Mist
What a beautiful name for a gorgeous flower. And free seeds? Yep, you have got to love that! According to the packet description, this plant dates back to 1570′s English gardens, and has “wispy, feathery foliage surrounding the blooms”. Although we primarily plant edibles, we also grow some flowers to attract bees. These look to be a good choice for this year’s garden.
A mix of love.
3. Love Lies Bleeding
Not the most romantic name, but the red variety of amaranth grows vibrant seed pods that are an outstanding, and edible, addition to the garden. We grew these for years before we were taking pictures of the garden, and unfortunately before we knew they were edible. More to come on growing amaranth this summer.
Tall and tasty love.
Okay, we admit this one is pushing it a bit, but what isn’t to love about a perennial herb that grows 3 feet wide by 6 feet high and can be used in place of celery? We have yet to grow this but have tasted it, and the resemblance in flavor to celery was enough to convince us; another gorgeous edible for your garden.
A sweet honeymoon.
5. Honeymoon Melon
The picture above is of the accidental experiment; but the real Honeymoon Melon is a yellow skinned green fleshed delight. It is also an earlier maturing variety of honeydew, so you get to enjoy that sweetness sooner.
There are two additional ways you can grow love in your garden:
Mom loved blue.
6. Grow a Remembrance Plant:
This is the Sea Holly that was planted after my mom passed away last spring. In spite of the weather and only being a young plant, it bloomed the following fall, and after two frosts no less. It will always be a reminder of her, in the place we love to be.
Ready for little hands.
7. Spread the Love
The garden really is a good example of the circle of life. Plants sprout, they grow and reproduce; some die and some continue to return for many years.
Sharing the knowledge and the love of gardening is a wonderful way to keep that information alive through the generations.
Pass it on, whether it is your neighbor, your kids or grandkids, or a school or church garden.
The love of gardening really is the best thing you grow.
Categories: special posts
11 February 2014, by gj
Life is not even.
It was almost 40 years ago now that I sat in my first college Psychology class. The Professor walked in and proceeded to warn us of something called Medical School Syndrome.
This is when young premed students find they have the symptoms of many different diseases and disorders. The same thing can happen when you start reading psychology books.
The truth is whether it is physical or mental health, we all have a few symptoms. As long as they aren’t severe, we’re okay.
Squash and beans creating a green wave.
Now a few years later, and married with children, the first two garden beds go in. Growing up I had mostly seen flower gardens, so with those in mind I planted the trellised veggies in the back, followed by a handful of bush beans, then the greens in front. There were two beds, one for each of our kids, and they looked pretty.
There were no rows, but one thing I noticed is that they were even; even numbers of vegetables that is. That was the first time I realized that although I do not have an affinity for straight rows, I also don’t like odd numbers.
Not to the extreme that it has a negative impact on my life mind you, but it does affect the appearance of the gardens.
Letting them trickle out into in the garden paths.
So our gardens are all raised beds, with mostly even numbers of veggies. The roadside garden is almost even on each side, but for the swerve of the fence lines and the esthetic addition of trees and brambles somewhat scattered about. No one bed is solely planted with just one veggie, and that intermix appeals to me.
Although my mind does prefer evenness in numbers, my heart leans towards more of a natural flow in spaces.
And that’s what makes my garden my happy place.
9 February 2014, by gj
Lots of seeds to play with.
After recently purchasing a hybrid melon thinking it was an heirloom, we proceeded to go about saving the seeds anyway. You can read more about How to Save Seeds here.
One of our Facebook equaintances knowledgeably commented:
David L. Green: “Many of the commercial hybrids have parents that are highly inbred, which means that they can be very weak. When you plant them, some will revert back to the parent line, and will be similarly weak. Cull these out from seed saving. Some may breed true (or be apparently true), so you can save and replant these for a third generation. After several generations of careful selection and saving only the truest, you will have stabilized the variety, and can be utilized as an open pollinated variety henceforth. For the average gardener, this is a lot of work, and takes a lot of knowledge, so it’s not recommended for beginners. It is a valid and useful technique for serious gardeners.”
Sounds like fun to me!
So, here’s what you need to know to develop your own open-pollinated veggie:
1. After saving your seeds, test for germination rate to see how well they will sprout. Do this by placing 10 seeds in between paper towels and keeping them moist and warm. Give them sufficient time to sprout, depending on what type of seed you have. Melons can take 3 weeks, so that’s how long we will wait.
2. If you get 8-9 from 10, that’s a great rate. Pack those seeds and you will be ready to plant when it is time. If you get only 5, plan on planting at least twice what you need. If you get 3 or less, germinate about 10 seeds for every one you wish to plant before planting time. When you do this depends on how long it took your first batch to germinate; in our case, 3 weeks.
3. When your plants grow, note which ones are the most vigorous. These are the ones you will want to save seed from. Also note any differences in plant health and taste of the fruit. Save the ones you think are the best.
4. Repeat the germination test with the second year’s seeds. Do this for a few seasons and as David said, you can then consider your seeds to be an open pollinated variety.
There’s one so far.
5. Be careful of cross pollination. Bees can carry the pollen from one veggie to another of similar type, melon to melon for example. This is how nature creates a hybrid, and your seeds are what is affected. You may want to limit what you plant. Note that a watermelon will not cross with a melon, so we’re safe there.
Is this fun or what? We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the melon to see what happens.
If you are you a gardening geek, why not give it a try?
More on the difference between hybrid and open pollinated.
Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow